One of my family’s favorite refrains is, “Science is never wrong!”
We say it whenever yet another uncontestable study comes out disproving a previously uncontestable study. Hey, remember when the sun rotated around the earth, white people were intellectually superior to all other races, thalidomide was perfectly safe, the Earth was about to experience global cooling, and formula was healthier for babies than breast milk? Recently, after 30-plus years of dietary fat vilification, it turns out that’s not what’s killing us, after all. That science was bad, but the one that debunked it is totally infallible.
Which all goes to prove that there is no such thing as the best science; there’s only the most recent science.
To that end, what does the latest science say about babies under the age of 2 taking vitamin supplements?
Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “While breastfeeding is the recommended method of infant feeding and provides infants with necessary nutrients and immune factors, breast milk alone does not provide infants with an adequate intake of vitamin D.”
In the past, American babies would get the supplementary vitamin D their bodies needed via routine sunlight exposure (i.e. being taken outside). However, modern science warnings about the dangers of sunburn and potential skin cancer risk (a 180-degree shift from the days when a tan and freckles stood as visible proof of a healthy, active, and wholesome childhood) has prompted parents to limit their babies’ exposure to the sun, leading to a rise in diagnosed cases of rickets, a disease wherein a child’s bones fail to develop properly. Once a sign of malnutrition, it was believed nearly conquered before rearing its head again at the start of the 21st Century.
As a result, the CDC now recommends a “daily intake of vitamin D of 400 IU/day for all infants and children beginning in the first few days of life.”
Once a child transitions to whole milk, however, the vitamins can be stopped, as the milk is traditionally already fortified.
Iron is another supplement that concerns parents. Because both formula and infant cereals proudly proclaim that they contain extra iron, and the mineral is considered key for brain development (though currently the connection to lowered IQs is tentative), mothers who breastfeed exclusively wonder if their babies are getting enough.
In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that as “more than 9% of the U.S. population is iron deficient,” they were advising iron supplements for breastfed infants beginning at the age of 4 months, recommending a 1 mg/kg a day of a liquid iron supplement until solid foods, such as iron-fortified cereals, are introduced. For partially breastfed infants, the iron recommendation remains the same as that for fully breastfed infants if more than half of the daily feedings are from human milk and the child is not receiving iron-containing complementary foods.
(Meanwhile, concerns about a link between the Vitamin K injections some children receive at birth and cancer has been deemed unsubstantiated–so far.)
Another thing to remember about science is that it is also cultural. For instance, England’s National Health Service, doesn’t mention iron, but does suggest adding Vitamins A and C to the D supplement. Do children’s bodies work differently across the Atlantic Ocean? Probably not. But their scientists might.
So that’s where things stand for babies and vitamin supplements today. Stay tuned, we might have a completely different round-up tomorrow! If you can’t wait or still aren’t sure exactly what your baby needs, ask your doctor. But remember, they’ll only know as much as the latest studies, too…